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Why Turkey Welcomes Putin Despite NATO and ICC

Russian President Vladimir Putin has postponed a planned trip to Turkey to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan until after the upcoming Russian presidential elections, the Kremlin said on Monday. “The president has a rather full and intensive schedule until the elections, and Mr Erdoğan’s is also very full,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists after being asked about the trip, according to Russian news agency Interfax. However, preparations for the meeting, initially scheduled for February, continue, he added.

Russia’s presidential elections will take place in March, with Putin widely expected to be confirmed in office for a further six years. A visit to Turkey would be Putin’s first trip to a NATO member state since launching the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Putin, against whom an arrest warrant has been issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague over suspected war crimes in Ukraine, rarely travels abroad these days.

On Monday, Putin and Erdoğan spoke on the phone on occasion of the Turkish president’s 70th birthday, according to the Kremlin. The Russian president praised Erdoğan’s commitment to Turkish-Russian relations, it said.

In the backdrop of escalating tensions due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant against President Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s embrace of Putin as a NATO member warrants a nuanced examination.

Turkey’s Relationship with Russia:

  1. Pragmatic Diplomacy: Turkey has pursued a pragmatic foreign policy, balancing its NATO membership with strategic engagements with Russia. This pragmatism stems from Turkey’s geopolitical position, economic interests, and historical ties with Russia.
  2. Energy Partnerships: Turkey and Russia have deepened energy cooperation, notably through projects like the TurkStream gas pipeline. Energy plays a critical role in Turkey’s economy, and collaboration with Russia offers significant benefits in terms of energy security and diversification.
  3. Regional Dynamics: Turkey navigates complex regional dynamics, particularly in Syria and the Black Sea region, where it interacts closely with Russia. Maintaining channels of communication with Moscow allows Ankara to safeguard its interests and manage regional conflicts effectively.
  4. Economic Interdependence: Both countries benefit from bilateral trade and investment ties. Turkey’s economy relies on Russian tourism, while Russia sees Turkey as a lucrative market for its goods and services. Economic interdependence fosters political dialogue and cooperation despite geopolitical differences.

Why Turkey Welcomes Putin Despite NATO and ICC:

  1. Realpolitik Considerations: Turkey prioritizes its national interests over ideological alliances. Despite being a NATO member, Turkey’s engagement with Russia reflects a realpolitik approach aimed at maximizing its strategic autonomy and leveraging regional dynamics.
  2. Mediating Role: Turkey positions itself as a mediator between Russia and the West, leveraging its diplomatic capital to de-escalate tensions and maintain stability in the region. Hosting Putin underscores Turkey’s role as a bridge-builder in times of crisis.
  3. Economic Imperatives: Turkey’s economy faces challenges, and maintaining cordial relations with Russia is essential for economic stability. By welcoming Putin, Turkey signals its commitment to preserving economic ties and minimizing the impact of geopolitical rifts.
  4. Security Concerns: Despite tensions within NATO, Turkey values cooperation with Russia on security issues such as counterterrorism and regional stability. Dialogue with Putin allows Turkey to address mutual security concerns and prevent the escalation of conflicts.

In conclusion, Turkey’s reception of Putin amidst NATO membership and an ICC arrest warrant reflects a complex interplay of geopolitical, economic, and strategic considerations. By engaging with Russia, Turkey navigates a delicate balancing act, seeking to safeguard its interests while mitigating risks posed by regional conflicts.

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